Songwriter David Alter digs deeply and writes masterfully; capturing bold truths in well-crafted soft rock that recalls the gentle introspection of Elton John, Billy Joel, and The Beatles. The Toronto, Canada based artist’s pastoral and poignant debut, Songs For Sale, is powerfully autobiographical and innovatively performed. Instead of singing and playing his music, he unselfishly hands the stories over to stellar guest musicians. Like a Brill Building pop songwriter—think the pre spotlight careers of Neil Diamond, Carole King, and Barry Manilow—he has made the songs the stars and stepped out of their way.
“I don’t particularly like the way I sing,” David candidly offers. “When I started working with producer George Koller he said ‘Why don’t you get out there as a songwriter and have others present your music?’ This way I can be a mad scientist in the basement writing songs, making arrangements, and bring in others to record. I don’t have to do everything, and that gave me confidence to get my music out there.”
The album brings together an array of top notch talent vibrantly embodying this first installment of the David Alter songbook. Highly esteemed Canadian musicians like Gregory Hoskins, Kirsten Rea, George Koller, and Yvan Pedneault grace the album lending their talents to bring to life David’s confessional and refined pop.
“Each song on this album represents key a moment in the journey of moving these songs from the basement to the real world,” he says. A highly fateful moment in his creative progression is captured in beautifully winsome piano ballad “Live For Today.” The song was inspired by the liberating realization that he could autonomously document his music through demoing in his basement and playing most of the instruments. “That represents that feeling of moving forward with your dreams, and how you can’t procrastinate,” he explains. The lyrics are beautifully empowering with David’s goose-bump inducing chorus refrain: Live for today, live for today/Live today as though tomorrow is behind us/Live for today, live for today/ Live today as though tomorrow is beyond us.
Songs For Sale channels intimate and highly personal stories into broadly appealing sophisticated pop. “Still The One” is a song about David accepting the death of his mother. On “Special World” and “Brother” David writes with powerful sensitivity of the painfully complex family dynamic that arises with a mentally challenged family member. “Each song is critical to the pathway of my journey and represents who I am,” he explains. “I don’t write love lyrics. I write philosophical lyrics that reveal vulnerabilities,” he says.
The 10 track album was carefully culled from a catalog of 100 tracks written over 20 years. As a whole, it’s something of a life story document. David grew up surrounded by music. His mother was a lyricist; his father a prominent bandleader who supported a family through bar mitzvah and wedding gigs, but discouraged David from pursuing the difficult life of a musician. “My father is my idol, I love my dad. He was a very successful showman but the journey as a musician to make a living was always a challenge. We lived modestly. There were certain things on menus that we couldn’t even look at. He didn’t want me to struggle,” he says. David studied piano at a music conservatory, but ultimately decided on a career in the medical profession. He’s currently a highly esteemed cardiologist and an epidemiologist scientist that’s published over 125 manuscripts and in 2010 founded Vigour Projects, a pioneering organization dedicated to applying, evaluating and promoting the benefits of music on health and medical outcomes.
“As much as I place medicine high, it’s the story of the girl you didn’t ask to the prom that you should have. I always wondered about music because it was a part of me that never left. I’m consumed by it, that has been the conflict,” he says. The final decision to pursue his music came from a wonderfully unexpected source. “My ten year-old heard my music and said ‘This stuff is great, you gotta do it, you gotta live your dreams.’ That was the defining moment for me.”